Penalties associated with the 5% reduction of bovine livestock manure nitrogen under the Beef Exceptional Aid Measure (BEAM) should be waived for farmers due to the implications of Covid-19 on the movement of livestock, according to independent TD Denis Naughten.

The Roscommon Galway TD made the call on the back of figures which he says shows that the “suckler herd as a whole has already fallen by 6% between June 2018 and June 2020”.

Expanding on this, he claimed: “Prior to the commencement of the reference period in July 2020, the suckler herd had fallen by 64,600 head in the previous two years and by the end of June 2021 this is likely to be close to a 10% reduction nationally.

It would therefore be completely unacceptable to see some suckler farmers facing a BEAM repayment bill when the beef sector has contracted to such an extent.

Highlighting that suckler and beef farmers “are already struggling to make ends meet”, deputy Naughten said it is imperative that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine seeks flexibility from the European Commission on the compliance with the 5% reduction.

Claiming that Covid-19 has “had a big impact on the movement of livestock particularly through marts”, the TD added:

“It should not be ignored that it has been virtually impossible for farmers to seek assistance from other farmers or advisors in interpreting the nitrates calculation as a result of these restrictions.

In fact, you would nearly need to be a quantum physicist to work out these figures independently or alternatively make a good guess based on data provided by the department which has a four to six-week time lag.

Deputy Naughten also claimed that at the start of this pandemic Minister McConalogue’s predecessor, Michael Creed, “left the door open” to go back to the European Commission on flexibility on the 5% reduction condition.

The TD quoted the then minister who stated in the Dáil on April 30: “I have committed to keeping an open mind on the 5% reduction in organic nitrogen loads for the beef exceptional aid measure, BEAM”.

Furthermore, in a Dáil reply from last May, deputy Naughten quotes Minister Creed as saying “given that this requirement only begins next July and is reviewed across the duration of a year, it would be premature to be considering amendments at this time”.

“It is now time, in light of the third more serious lockdown and due to the fact that cow numbers will have fallen well in excess of the required 5%, that we now have clarity on a waiver on any threat of penalties for farmers who have drawn down payments under BEAM,” deputy Naughten concluded.